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Available Expert - Queen’s Geologists help to solve the mystery of how arsenic got into the soils in the Yellowknife area

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Queen’s University expert Heather Jamieson (Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering and Environmental Studies) is available to speak to the media about research by Queen’s graduate students, Dr. Jamieson and other colleagues. The senior author is Michael Palmer, manager of the North Slave Research Centre, Aurora College, Yellowknife regarding arsenic contamination in the region around Giant Mine in Yellowknife, NWT. The research was published in The Science of the Total Environment

“We have the tools here at Queen’s that can distinguish the particles of arsenic trioxide that were released from the Giant Mine roaster stack from natural arsenic in the soil samples. For many years, people thought that the arsenic was naturally high in near surface soils in the Yellowknife area (because of the bedrock geology), but we have shown that this assumption is wrong – the high values are due to pollution from human impact,” says Dr. Jamieson. The new study establishes a lower figure (approximately one fifth the previous value)  for how much arsenic would naturally occur in Yellowknife regional soil (background concentration)  if it weren’t for human activity such as mining and ore processing. Jamieson indicates that this does not necessarily imply risk to human health.

All 479 soil samples were collected and analyzed by two Queen’s MSc students, Kirsten Maitland and Jon Oliver, under the supervision of Dr. Jamieson.  Post doctoral fellow  Anežka Borčinová Radková also performed some of the analyses. The bulk soil samples were analysed in the Analytical Services Unit at Queen’s University, and the arsenic trioxide was identified using the Scanning Electron Microscope in the Department of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering. The study found arsenic trioxide in 80 percent of samples as far as 30 km away from Yellowknife. 

Currently, the Yellowknife  Dene First Nation is asking the federal government for an apology and compensation for the damage from Giant Mine to their traditional lands.

To arrange an interview, please contact communications officer  Julie Brown ( 343-363-2763 or Julie.brown@queensu.ca) at Queen’s University News and Media Services Department in Kingston, Ont., Canada.  

Follow Queen’s News and Media Services on Twitter: http://twitter.com/QueensuMedia.  


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